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Cyberpunk As Naturalist Science Fiction

Cyberpunk As Naturalist Science Fiction

as Naturalist

Christophe Den Tandt, Université Libre de Bruxelles

Urban Naturalism for the Age ’s (1982), based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), depicts a Emile Zola, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, , and Raymond Chan- dler might have claimed as their own. The film opens with a panoramic view of an industrial identified in screen captions as 2019 . Viewers discover a tangle of urban canyons, fire-spouting­ oil re- fineries, and huge pyramid-­shaped high-­rises. Los Angeles streets bathe in the glare of ubiquitous graphics—neon­ signs, giant screens on the face of skyscrapers, floating dirigibles blaring out commercial mes- sages. The ’s crowds make up a multilingual mass exhibiting a dazzling plurality of ethnic or subcultural dress codes. Above all, the cityscape pro- claims through its manifold logos that it is a construct of powerful cor- porations. In the of hard-­boiled , the film’s first scenes follow a private investigator () as he calls on some of the masters of this capitalistic world. Whereas in Dreiser or Chandler such figures would include steel, oil, or magnates, in Blade Runner they comprise corrupt policemen, genetic engineers, and - ics tycoons. Ridley Scott’s film reworks the thematics of urban naturalism and hard-­boiled not only by scrutinizing the power structure of the urban-­industrial scene but also by raising questions about the make-­up of the subjects inhabiting this dystopian environment. The pes- simism of classic literary naturalism was due to novelists’ suspicions that modern subjects are human beasts—­characters like Frank Norris’s McTe- ague, superficially trained into the decorum of civilization, yet driven by

Studies in American Naturalism • Summer 2013. Vol. 8, No. 1 © 2013 Studies in American Naturalism 94 Studies in American Naturalism vol. 8, no. 1 atavistic urges. Instead, turn-­of-­the-­twenty-­first-­century science-­fiction attributes the disquieting hybridity of to their ever more intimate relation to machines. Most humans and animals in Blade Runner are cy- borgs, compounding biological processes, industrial refitting, and artifi- cial . At one point, the private investigator, who specializes in hunting down rogue androids, is asked to gauge the biological status of the tycoon’s secretary. It takes a personality test of more than a hundred questions, accompanied by eye scans and blush-response­ moni- toring, for him to ascertain that the young woman fails to elicit proper levels of human empathy and is therefore an engineered organism. She is similar to 2019 Los Angeles pet snakes or fishes: the latter are handcrafted artifacts whose genes display serial numbers. In early 1980s popular , Blade Runner marked the advent of cy- berpunk, the science-fiction­ subgenre mapping the social relations gener- ated by information and computer . In an anecdote familiar to sf fans, —who­ would become the major novelist of the budding movement—­tried to see Ridley’s Scott’s film on its , yet soon he had to flee from the movie theater because he felt the movie was uncomfortably close to his own vision of the . The of Gibson’s award-winning­ first novel (1984) marked the break- through of cyberpunk’s literary production. The text—­the first install- ment of Gibson’s “”—popularized­ a thematic feature that would prove definitional for all later instances of the : the evocation of polities electronically interlinked by what Gibson was the first to call “” (Gibson, “Burning” 197). The label cyberpunk itself, coined by sf writer , refers to postmodern sf’s concern both with the socio-­technological aspects of information-based­ and with the lat- ter’s capacity to generate subcultures comparable to those spawned by . Two years after Neuromancer, the short-­story collection Mirror- shades (1988), edited by , publicized previous works by other members of the cyberpunk group—Sterling­ himself, , , , , Mark Laidlaw, and Greg Bear. In addi- tion to the , later writers such as and joined the movement, expanding it toward what is some- labeled postcyberpunk. Though cyberpunk sf has found its most so- ciologically and technologically sophisticated expression in , it has inspired a significant film corpus comprising, beyond Blade Runner, Ste- ven Lisberger’s Tron (1982); David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) and eX- istenZ (1999); Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987); Andy and Larry Wachows- ki’s (1998); and ’s Minority Report (2002). Christophe Den Tandt 95

Towards a Transhistorical, Transgeneric Naturalism As cyberpunk maps the landscape of the near future, it perpetuates the tradition impelling realist/naturalist to provide a totalizing chart of new stages of social and industrial development. According to an ad- mittedly schematic of contemporary culture, each surge of real- ism/naturalism—­in mid-nineteenth-­ ­century Europe, the late nineteenth-­ century US, the 1930s, and indeed the 1980s—matches­ a moment when the need was felt to assess social reconfigurations that had rendered the field of urban-industrialism­ illegible. Mid-nineteenth-­ ­century English au- thors, reacting to the Industrial Revolution, borrowed an evocative label from essayist Thomas Carlyle in order to designate this literary-­didactic venture: the “Condition-­of-­England” novel (Kettle 165). Similarly, cyber- provides a late twentieth-century­ condition-of-­ ­technocapitalism : it expresses the response of early 1980s observers to the social im- pact of the electronic and the . Anchoring cyberpunk in the realist/naturalist tradition raises prob- lems of literary-historical­ mapping and genre definition, however. Cy- berpunk authors claim a cultural lineage that pays abstract homage to socially oriented yet makes no explicit reference to the classic expressions of realism and naturalism and sometimes even explicitly de- viates from realism altogether. Within , Gibson, Sterling, and their fellow writers acknowledge literary influences ranging from early masters like and H. G. Wells; pulp-­fiction stories and sf com- ics; technologically-oriented­ hard sf from the 1950s to the ; as well as 1960s New-­Wave authors like , , Philip K. Dick, Samuel Delany, and J. G. Ballard. With regard to these antecedents, the profile themselves as realists insofar as they plead for a re- turn to an sf idiom offering a scientifically informed assessment of tech- nological change. In the prefaces to Mirrorshades and to Gibson’s —­two texts that acted as cyberpunk’s manifestos—­Sterling con- tends that cyberpunk aims for the “self-consistent­ evocation of a credible future” (“Preface,” Burning 10). The new genre carries out a “return to the roots” of sf, reviving the spirit of Verne and Wells against later develop- ments (Sterling, “Preface,” Mirrorshades xi). In particular, cyberpunk dif- ferentiates itself from the production of 1960s and 1970s authors such as Ursula LeGuin and , whose works verge on “ and sor- cery ” (Sterling, “Preface,” Burning 10). Sterling’s claims suggest therefore that cyberpunk fits Darko Suvin’s definition of classic sf as hy- pothetical realism—a­ literary practice applying the epistemological prin- ciples of the empirical to hypothetical projections of the future 96 Studies in American Naturalism vol. 8, no. 1 or to alternative constructions of (Suvin, “Poetics” 65; Suvin, “On Gibson” 352). Still, in an apparent departure from sociological mimesis, cyberpunk also relies on antirealist postmodernist sources—­the technological allego- ries of and William , for instance, from which they borrow their fascination for subcultures. Cyberpunk has according- ly been greeted as one of the pillars of popular (Jame- son 38; Tabbi 215). It has generated a theoretical corpus—cybercriticism—­ ­ investigating the postmodernist thematics of humankind’s shift into a future (Bukatman 30–­31). Also, cyberpunk’s realist credentials are undercut by the genre’s anchorage within mass culture. Cyberpunk is often sensationalistic and escapist. It resorts to the fabulation oth- erwise found in hard-boiled­ or opera: its promise their readers maximum excitement and the reassuring prospect of their ’ victory. In this context, instead of implausibly arguing that cyberpunk fits the classic concepts of realism and naturalism, we must redraw the latter genre categories in more inclusive terms: the definitions required for the pres- purpose should be, metaphorically speaking, long and broad. Realism/ naturalism must be stretched transhistorically to include texts chronologi- cally remote from classic nineteenth-century­ instances. These definitions must also be transgeneric: they must accommodate texts that, in addition to mapping social conditions, obey conventions unrelated to the realist/ naturalist canon. In previous scholarship, there have been similar attempts to identify modernistic variants of realism (Herman 148, 186), or to make naturalism compatible with postmodernist writing or late twentieth-­ century science (Pizer 391; Zayani 363). Serious obstacles stand in the way of these endeavors, however. First, the transgeneric reconceptualization of realism is to re-examine­ the latter’s basic epistemological possibil- ity: it requires to specify how texts deviating from the classic real- ist formula still render accounts of social reality. Second, one must deter- mine whether the distinction between realism and naturalism retains its relevance beyond the context in which it was initially articulated. In the present case, there is no guarantee that the subject and philosophi- cal outlook traditionally invoked to assert naturalism’s specificity—­urban poverty, proletarianization, prostitution, evolutionary determinism—­will have any bearing upon contemporary sf. Though we cannot tackle the epistemological legitimization of realism at large in these pages, we may nevertheless address the other abovemen- tioned objections. First, realism and naturalism gain considerable trans- Christophe Den Tandt 97 generic breadth once we accept that no impassable barrier separates mass-­ culture narratives from serious socially oriented mimesis. Cultural studies scholars have shown that the popular narratives of crime fiction sf, or even the Hollywood serve as carrier waves for a realist or didactic pay- load: the realist/naturalist components of popular texts are encoded with- in the broader lattice of patently non-realistic­ stories (Naremore 103–­04; James 198–99;­ Jameson 38). In this , popular narratives turn elements that by formalist standards would be discarded as didactic di- gressions into the text’s primary focus of interest. Additionally, cyberpunk epic narratives, however stereotypical, are socially significant in their de- piction of working subjects. Gibson’s fiction resorts to what Will Wright, in an analysis of Sam Peckinpah’s westerns, has called the “professional ”—­stories about groups of experts with a mission (164). The protago- nist of Neuromancer is a noir loser whose talents as a computer are reactivated when he joins a team of characters with complementary skills—­martial experts, computer gear salesmen, media terrorists, and subcultural groups living in the margins of the cyber culture. Narratives of this type carry out the realist agenda of circumscribing the degree of au- tonomy available to protagonists in the capitalistic labor market. Second, given an adequate reading perspective, it is possible to estab- lish that the realism/naturalism distinction lends itself to historical and transgeneric transposition after all: a naturalist variant of sf, different to some degree from its realist counterpart, can be isolated on the basis of methodological principles structurally similar to those invoked in order to mark out the same boundary in late nineteenth-­century non-­sf fiction. Post–­World War II scholarship suggests that naturalist writing obeys a specific dialogical pattern: naturalist works off the discourse of clas- sic realism against elements of romance and the gothic (Walcutt 1; Kaplan 158–­60; Den Tandt, Urban 16–­20). From a socio-­cognitive perspective, this dialogical tension signals the interplay of two modes of perceiving and representing the social field: while classic realism depicts the famil- iar lifeworld—­the “knowable ,” to take up Amy Kaplan’s term (47)—­naturalism, through its appeal to romance, peers beyond this pe- rimeter and seeks to capture what James Naremore calls the “social fantas- tic” (16). Naturalism’s romance components can admittedly not deliver an analytical mapping of social conditions: they offer glimpses of what Mary Papke, quoting Frank Norris, calls life “[t]wisted from the [o]rdinary” (iii). Yet such romance nevertheless ranks as a cognitive speech : naturalist texts thereby mark out the limits between what ought to be 98 Studies in American Naturalism vol. 8, no. 1 represented in at a given historical moment and what can actually be mapped with the distinctiveness of a quasi-­scientific gaze. Ironically, transposing this rationale to science fiction risks nudging the whole of sf away from realism and towards the naturalist end of the spectrum. Everyday realism—the­ depiction of “the ignobly decent life,” as novelist George Gissing grimly puts it (145)—seems­ to have little purchase in a genre devoted to the hypothetical and the non-­actual: with its tales of extra-­terrestrials, inhospitable , and reconfigured humans sf reality seems twisted from the ordinary by definition. Therefore, in the case of sf, new coordinates must be chosen to serve as the realist pole of the dialogi- cal axis: sf realism does not depict the everyday round of life; it imagines states of amenable to rational political, scientific, and technologi- cal control. In other words, realist sf portrays the knowable communi- ty nearing an idealized state of closure—­at the point when it has been thoroughly explored and reordered. In this logic, Edward Bellamy’s Look- ing Backward (1888) and ’s 1940s robot stories qualify as re- alistic, whereas works portraying far less stable hypothetical societies—H.­ G. Wells’s The Machine (1895), ’s (1908), and indeed Scott’s Blade Runner—are­ naturalistic. Admittedly, the dialo- gized tension illustrated here implies no clear-cut­ contrast: the texts men- tioned above stretch along the gradient of a dialogized field, ranging from representations of the most tightly organized societies to the portrayal of accommodating ever higher levels of sociological or anthropologi- cal entropy. Nor does this distinction match the familiar binary opposing utopian and dystopian texts. Anti-­ such as ’s Fahr- enheit 451 (1953), ’s thx 1138 (1971), or Ira Levin’s (1970) paradoxically fall on the realist side of the line because they postulate the possibility of rational—albeit­ oppressive—­regimentation. Naturalist sf is less one-sided.­ It examines what Mohamed Zayani evoca- tively calls “the changing relation between order and disorder”—the­ en- actment of political and scientific rationalization as well as the obstacles that prevent the latter’s completion (349). In this light, cyberpunk qualifies as naturalistic in so far as it focuses not only on the construction of the social fabric of information societies but also on the latter’s unraveling. Gibson’s Neuromancer indicates that in- formation monopolies, however powerful, are countered by underground groups using the very means technocapitalism makes available to its popu- lation. Likewise, cyberpunk’s naturalism manifests itself in the suggestion that the technological reshaping of the living subject brings with itself the latter’s distortion. In Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix (1985), “super- Christophe Den Tandt 99 bright” mutants see their genetically boosted intelligence veer toward psy- chosis (243). Many of Gibson’s characters favor monstrous technobiologi- cal enhancements, giving rise to what I call the posthuman gothic (see below). Finally, cyberpunk displays the naturalist propensity to highlight the consequences of social, technological, and biological malfunctioning. Camera implants in Gibson’s stories, unless crafted by prestigious brands such as Zeiss Ikon, destroy their owners’ optic nerves (“Burning” 212). In Sterling’s Schismatrix, orbital stations end up devoured by parasitical bac- teria. Comically, in the same novel, technologically advanced aliens whom humans admire for their mastery of interstellar travel can be blackmailed for sexual perversion (138).

Cyberspace//Matrix: The Information Society as Electronic Grid Cyberpunk’s approach to social cohesion and entropy is inseparable from its depiction of electronically interlinked polities. In this matter, cyber- punk authors have played a role that pre-1980s­ sf had somewhat relin- quished: they acted as Jules Verne-style­ futurologists, anticipating the practical implementation of technologies that had only been theorized in overly optimistic terms by -­propagandists (Marshall McLuhan, Al- vin Toffler), and had thus far been the preserve of scientists and the mili- tary. With regard to science fiction itself, cyberpunk’s interest in the so- cial impact of computing signalled a change in emphasis. Cybersystems and artificial were not absent from previous sf, but they were overshadowed by the genre’s fascination for , extra-­ terrestrials, mutants, and . Cyberpunk reversed these sf pri- orities as it registered a change in the popular representation and market- ing of computer . Until the 1960s and 1970s, data systems had been depicted as colossal machines operated by the faceless technicians of military, state, or industrial apparatuses. Cyberpunk, on the contrary, made visible the social bond generated by what Joseph Tabbi calls the “populist technology” of the 1980s—mass-­ ­consumption devices such as personal and game consoles (218). The triumph of cyberpunk’s futurological approach in this matter was the literary or filmic represen- tation of the virtual field of interfacing now called the . Though a few major cyberpunk works—­Blade Runner or Sterling’s early fiction—­ make no reference to global interconnection, the genre would probably not have become an identifiable subset of sf had William Gibson failed to sketch out what computer users would discover only a decade later. It is symptomatic of sf’s anchorage in naturalism that cyberpunk 100 Studies in American Naturalism vol. 8, no. 1 should make the Internet’s flow of electronic interfacing perceptible under the guise of virtual —­electronic environments structurally similar to the real-space­ urban fields. The cyberspace “matrix,” Gibson suggests in “Burning Chrome” (1982) and Neuromancer, is a “consensus hallucina- tion” providing “an abstract representation of the relationships between data systems” (“Burning” 196). The data thus stored and exchanged takes on the visible shape of “an endless neon cityscape” (Neuromancer 256) displaying the “bright geometries” of its virtual buildings and informa- tion thoroughfares (“Burning” 197). In this, cyberpunk authors illustrate metaphorically what urban studies researchers call the “virtualization” of urban experience—the­ shift from conviviality in phenomenal space to computer-­generated social bonds (Ghent Urban Studies Team 88). Real-­space city settings in Gibson’s early works—notably­ the “Sprawl,” a megalopolis extending from to Atlanta (Neuromancer 43)—­are mirrored in an electronic matrix that in its densest spots displays such structures as a “blue neon replica” of the rca building (Neuromancer 257). Neal Stephenson’s (1993) provides an even more detailed ac- count of how computer cities are constructed. This cyberpunk un- folds partly in the “Metaverse”—­Stephenson’s name for cyberspace (24). Within this field, computer have created a virtual city called “the Street” (24). The latter is a -­generated real estate tract shaped as a “grand boulevard going all the way around the equator of a ” (24). As such, the Street resembles a Las Vegas-­like digital Strip with a di- ameter “considerably bigger than ” (24). Its tectonics fit the mindset of computer : it accommodates programmers’ wildest fantasies, pro- vided these constructs fit within a digital grid measured according to pow- ers of two. Similarly, Andy and Larry Wachowski’s The Matrix drives the virtualization of urban space to its mystifying fulfillment. Naïve urbanites in this film mistake cyberspace for the actual texture of everyday life. Only guerillas who have withstood a painful awakening process know that this inauthentic cyberenvironment should by right be represented in the form of computer screens displaying a ceaseless drip of cryptic digits. Cyberpunk’s virtual cities are proper objects of transgeneric naturalism in so far as they are not reducible to knowable : the apparent clarity of their neon-like­ lattices is riven by fractures and contradictions. On first inspection, the cybercity fulfills a that haunts the classic naturalist representation of the urban world—the­ possibility to depict an environment where social exchanges unfold on a single plane of . Zola’s Rougon-Macquart­ cycle famously links all segments of French soci- ety to the biological chain of one extended family. Theodore Dreiser’s city Christophe Den Tandt 101 novels present the urban spectacle as the manifestation of “[l]ife” or “the world” ( 12; Sister 485). Frank Norris’s McTeague (1899) and The Oc- topus (1901) portray the US economy as the traffic of one single commod- ity: in the former case, wheat in the latter. Likewise, the fictional so- ciology of cyberpunk takes for granted that information itself constitutes the unifying principle of all economic and social exchanges. Still, neither in classic naturalism nor in postmodernist sf does this monist concept of the urban economy prove sustainable. The classic naturalist city resists the efforts of protagonists and authors who seek to appropriate it as a manage- able object. Likewise, the cybercity’s field of data, which should by right be transparent to cognition, is not amenable to knowledge and political control. Therefore, cyberpunk juggles with contradictory epistemological and political evaluations of its electronic world. Two axes of uncertainty structure this unstable mapping game: the texts explore whether the cy- bercommunity is a closed or open field; simultaneously, they investigate whether it offers a utopian or dystopian environment. Cyberpunk’s depiction of the electronic city manifests authors’ rejec- tion of a closed, dystopian information society and, conversely, their en- dorsement of a pluralistic, utopian one. The threat of seeing the informa- tion society act as a repressive total system was one of the obsessions of early 1980s postmodernist theory. Jean Baudrillard, in his reflections on what he calls the simulacrum, offers a provocative formulation of this view (Simulacres 10; Amérique 9). He contends that late deploys ut- terly impersonal signifying processes—a­ field of simulacra entirely closed in upon itself. In a famous inspired by Jorge Luis Borges, Baudril- lard illustrates this notion by comparing the postmodern signifying econ- omy to a map that has erased the territory it was meant to represent: the technologically generated signs of consumerism have phagocytized real-­ world objects and subjects (Simulacres 9). If nothing subsists beyond these simulacra, individuals are left any means to put their consumerist lifeworld to the test of reality and thereby to resist it. Cyberpunk’s response to such abstract technocatastrophism is emblem- atic of the potentialities of naturalist sf defined above. Baudrillard’s de- piction of postmodern American cities takes for granted that social insti- tutions and subjects have been emptied out of existence, making urban space equivalent to the desert (Amérique 66). The cyberpunk city seldom resembles this nightmare: it still features distinct landmarks and agents—­ capitalist conglomerates, in particular—­with assignable, albeit fictional names: the Tyrrell Corporation (Blade Runner), Ono-Sendai­ (Gibson’s Neuromancer), or Blue (Gibson’s Zero History [2010]). sf novelist 102 Studies in American Naturalism vol. 8, no. 1

Samuel R. Delany has congratulated Gibson and his fellow writers for highlighting the industrial aspects of the , thereby making capitalism a topic of popular sf for the first time (Dery 197). This gesture of political demystification is illustrated in Gibson’s (1993), where protagonists use enhanced-­reality glasses allowing them to spot the network of capitalist ownership structuring the San Francisco cityscape (133). The socio-­political landscape revealed thereby is too determinate and too open to consciously articulated power strategies to qualify as a total system. Similarly, cyberpunk counters the prospect of a homogenized cyber- world by its representation of hypothetical subcultures of the electronic age. In this, Gibson, Sterling, and Stephenson emulate Thomas Pynchon and William Burroughs, whose fiction sets itself the task of imagining the various manifestations of a “counterforce” (Pynchon 611). Accordingly, Gibson’s narratives churn out a roster of eccentrically named groups with countercultural or criminal pursuits: “Johnny Mmnemonic” (1981) features a band of Luddites called the “Lo Teks” and a Yakuza brotherhood named the “Sons of the Neon Chrysanthemum” (28, 17); Neuromancer introduces the “Panther Moderns” cyberguerillas and the “Zionite” Rastafarian - al station (57, 103); Virtual Light follows the adventures of anti-capitalist­ “Cognitive Dissidents” (131). Similarly, Sterling’s (1988), echoing Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix Guattari’s libertarian theories, introduc- es the “Rizome” network of economic democrats and their opponents, the Free Army of Counter-Terrorism”­ or “F.A.C.T” (3, 132). Sterling’s Schis- matrix offers a catalogue of posthuman subcultures divided among advo- cates of genetic programming (the “Shapers”) and of techno-prosthetic­ enhancements (the “Mechanists”) (5). Stephenson’s Snow Crash and (1995) provide satirical surveys of a fragmented global culture where nation states have been eclipsed by planetwide privatized franchis- es such as “CosaNostra” and a -­Victorian fraternity called “Atlantis” (Snow 35; Diamond 12). Overall, through its commitment to social plural- ism, cyberpunk evokes a postindustrial configuration in stark contrast not only with Baudrillardian total-system­ theories, but also with golden-age­ sf. The nodal points of the cyberpunk world are no longer the power centers of a technocratic elite but marginal environments such as shady computer stores, underground clubs, orbital leisure resorts, and hide-outs­ for cor- porate mercenaries. These settings spread across several planes of being—­ phenomenal, virtual, and orbital—making­ up a pluralist space that might best be called a postmetropolis. In this world, social bonds based on soli- darity give way to what Sterling calls “[f]luidarity” (Schismatrix 216). Christophe Den Tandt 103

Still, alongside the endorsement of postmetropolitan fluidarity, cyber- punk discreetly gives voice to nostalgia for a utopian form of closure—­an emotion rooted in anxieties over techno-induced­ social and existential dis- sociation. Gibson develops this in passages reflecting on the possi- bility to achieve a total grasp of cyberspace. In (1988), the leader of a youth gang living in a New Jersey industrial waste land is obsessed with “the Shape” of the matrix (75). He investigates this question with the help of a whose deep immersion in cyberspace allows him to dialogue with the “loa”—­voodoo-­like entities presiding over the matrix’s fate (10). In Gibson’s (1986), a young gallery opera- tor is asked to locate the creator of ready-­mades reminiscent of surrealist sculptor Joseph Cornell’s collage boxes. Each of these art works is a micro- cosmic “” made up of odds and ends of the cyber-postmetropolis,­ thereby allegorizing the latter’s putative closure (28). Both the ready-­made of Count Zero and the electronic Voodoo deities in Mona Lisa Over- drive are revealed to be artificial intelligences—a­ narrative twist signalling that the totality of the cyberenvironment remains elusive to human sub- jects. Similarly, several subcultures of Gibson’s, Sterling’s, and Stephenson’s cyberworld paradoxically yearn to revert to pre-­electronic harmony. The Rastafarian Zionites of Neuromancer regard the postmetropolis as a dis- tended version of fallen (248). Sterling’s Schismatrix depicts an or- bital city-state—­ ­the Neotenic Cultural Republic—that­ disavows fluidarity and advocates conservative “[p]reservationist” policies (230, 11). Stephen- son’s Atlantis New Victorians preach a social discipline that counteracts the centrifugal drift of the technologies they otherwise zealously develop.

Posthuman Gothic Beyond the nostalgia for a retotalized lifeworld, misgivings about cyber- pluralism underlie the often gruesome fashion with which sf authors rep- resent the technological reconfiguration of human bodies and subjects. Cyberpunk signals its hesitations about the value of technological change by developing a discourse of posthuman gothic. I have argued elsewhere that classic naturalism approaches new urban conditions with a mixture of fascination and disgust, thereby giving rise to a naturalist variant of the urban (Urban 124–­30). In turn-­of-­the-­twentieth-­century texts, these troubled emotions are stirred by the social, ethnic, and fea- tures of the populations of fast-­developing cities. In cyberpunk, gothic discourse issues from the defamiliarizing modes in which human sub- jects with software and machines. This aspect of the near future fuels, on the one hand, utopian hopes about the enhancement of mind 104 Studies in American Naturalism vol. 8, no. 1 and body: Scott Bukatman celebrates the advent of what he calls a “ter- minal” subject linked to its environment through multiple connections (9); Donna Haraway looks forward to an egalitarian polity of “[c]yborgs” transcending human restraints (149). On the other hand, the posthuman condition stirs fears of the traumatic reshaping, even the loss of the sub- ject. When the development of the cybersubject is viewed negatively, the resulting critique of technology amounts to an indictment of information capitalism. Computer systems, cyberpunk authors suggest, drive reifica- tion to new extremes: their technology is, as Sterling puts it, “invasive” and “visceral,” and as such is capable of introducing privatization, exploi- tation, and inequality into aspects of the human experience that had hith- erto been sheltered from it (“Preface,” Mirrorshades xiii). There is admittedly some grim playfulness in cyberpunk authors’ portrayal of posthuman reconfigurations. Early 1980s texts—Gibson’s­ “Sprawl Trilogy,” Sterling’s Shaper/Mechanist cycle—compete­ in imagin- ing the most eccentric couplings of body, , prosthetics, and data. The thematic topography of this posthuman bestiary is structured by an axis whose polar opposites are, on the one hand, the expansion and metamorphosis of bodies and subjects and, on the other, their disruptive invasion and hybridization. Posthuman expansion is the keynote of a the- matics of technopsychedelism. In a fashion reminiscent of Burroughs’s surrealistic sf novels, jacking into cyberspace is compared to shooting mind-­expanding drugs. Casey, the protagonist of Neuromancer, is initial- ly portrayed as a cyberaddict who has been severed from the matrix for weeks. When he jacks in again, the experience has the value of a heroin high. Likewise, in Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, characters seeking an ever deeper immersion into the matrix follow the curve of a worsen- ing addiction. Sterling’s Shapers/Mechanist cycle depicts posthuman en- hancements in more optimistic colors. Mechanist expansion is illustrated in the figure of protagonists nicknamed “wireheads,” whose reliance on mind-­to-­computer interlinking and technological prosthetics takes them beyond human physicality (Schismatrix 195). The eponymous heroine of “Spider Rose,” for instance, is the two-­hundred-­years-­old custodian of an orbital station. She is “brain-­linked” (259) to multiple sensors, allowing her to gaze “a quarter of a million miles into space” (259). The Shaper version of posthuman expansion, achieved through genetic programming, produces figures such as Kitsune in Schismatrix. The former employee of a brothel franchise called the “Geisha Bank,” Kitsune reshapes herself into a full-­fledged orbital world powered by giant multiple hearts (11). This new Christophe Den Tandt 105 organic tourist resort boasts walls of human flesh and furniture made of ivory cloned from Kitsune’s teeth. The invasive/hybridizing of the posthuman make-­over—­the colonization of bodies and minds by information technology—is­ arguably one of cyberpunk’s most familiar themes. Gibson introduces it in “”: the eponymous ’s skull is graced with a computer plug allowing him to store information on an “idiot/savant basis” (15); the data is secured by a password to which Johnny has no access. Similarly, protagonists in Count Zero enhance their value as mercenaries by down- loading into their nervous system software packages conferring instant foreign-­language proficiency or airplane-­flying skills. In the same novel and in Mona Lisa Overdrive, Gibson drives the logic of techno-invasion­ to its logical conclusion by introducing a character—­Angie Mitchell—who­ has been grafted neural “receptors sites” allowing her to access cyberspace without hardware connection (Mona 18). Angie experiences her organic relation to the matrix as a quasi-­psychotic experience: her mind echoes with the voices of the electronic Voodoo loa. Technological invasion is inseparable from hybridity, since the intro- jected augments interact with the human substratum in order to create new posthuman life forms. Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic” features two transsexual club bouncers called the Magnetic Dog Sisters, who have re- shaped themselves into thin, muscular, greyhounds—­one white, the oth- er black. The Lo Teks rebels in the same story boast fang-like­ implants borrowed from Doberman pinschers. The posthuman depicted in Sterling’s Schismatrix and in Rudy Rucker’s erotic stories are more eccen- tric still: the Lobsters in Schismatrix are whose previously human consciousness has been introjected into shell-­like bodies that withstand the vacuum of deep space. Rucker’s Freeware (1997) depicts the various ways in which intelligent augments may be added to human bodies for erotic pur- poses. Technohybridity, these examples suggest, acts as cyberpunk’s major source of gothic intensities because it involves the redrawing of key exis- tential boundaries. Gibson’s early fiction introduces a device called sim- stim, which allows users to share another person’s perceptions, violating traditional concepts of selfhood. Other techniques create beings straddling life and death: the characters of Neuromancer seek the help of Dixie Flat- line—a­ deceased hacker whose consciousness has been preserved on disk; in Count Zero, the wealthy Herr Virek lies in near-death­ state in hospital, yet he summons guests to his virtually generated mental world. Predict- ably, characters find The Flatline’s software-generated­ laughter chilling and Virek’s virtual bubble uncanny (Neuromancer 169; Count 25). 106 Studies in American Naturalism vol. 8, no. 1

Cyberpunk and the of Naturalism In political terms, the ambivalence with which cyberpunk approaches the social landscape of the near future constitutes still another transhistorical link to earlier stages of naturalism. For most of the twentieth century, the fiction of Zola, Norris, and Dreiser was interpreted as a vehicle of liberal- ism and left-wing­ politics. Yet in recent decades, naturalist politics have been re-evaluated­ in less idealistic terms. Scholars have highlighted the novels’ lapses into sexism and racism, and their covert fascination with na- scent consumerism (Den Tandt, “Refashioning” 405). Naturalism’s hith- erto unacknowledged ideological complexity is noticeable in its reluctance to attribute a stable value to the social phenomena it depicts. Frank Nor- ris’s The Octopus initially praises the struggle of California farmers against railroad trusts only to endorse the same corporations’ conquering spirit in its last pages; Dreiser’s Sister Carrie depicts Chicago streets both as “wall-­ lined mysteries” and as channels in “the great sea of life,” thereby hinting that this site of capitalistic alienation may enigmatically buoy up vital en- ergies (7, 13). By the same token, it is not clear whether cyberpunk, with its mixture of utopian and dystopian accents, glamorizes or debunks the virtualized postmetropolis and its posthuman reconfigurations. Its utopi- an component is expressed in Gibson’s belief that “the street finds its own use for things”: a pluralist street culture is able to turn new technologies to emancipatory ends (“Burning” 215). Yet cybercritics such as Joseph Tab- bi and wonder whether, under its veneer of political dissent, postmodern sf does not merely exacerbate its ’s craving for capi- talistic gadgetry (Tabbi 218; Dery 194). Hampered by the sensationalism of popular literature (as classic naturalism may have been by the ambigu- ous intensities of the gothic), cyberpunk might lack the analytical subtlety to make good on its intended critique of technocapitalism. Without dismissing this negative judgment, one may object that the chief value of classic naturalism and cyberpunk has been less their capacity to analyze an emergent social configuration consistently than to make the latter available for literary negotiation. Ambivalence is in this respect im- putable to the shock of the new—the­ discovery of urban industrial con- sumerism in the former case, the response to infocapitalism in the other. If so, the greater political peril incurred by naturalism old and new lies less in unrefined political evaluation than in the absence of social mapping al- together. The evolution of cyberpunk beyond the 1980s has unfortunately veered towards this pessimistic scenario. The sf field in recent decades has been characterized, on the one hand, by the dissemination of cyberpunk’s Christophe Den Tandt 107 technological in superficial form through feature and tele- vision, and, on the other, by the dominance of the epics of . In these circumstances literary cyberpunk has failed to retain its dialogical balance: as it morphed into postcyberpunk, its realist and natu- ralist components have grown asunder. Gibson’s later novels—­Pattern Rec- ognition (2003), Zero History—­take the realist path: they shun defamiliar- izing technological speculations, and provide a fragmented portrayal of a postindustrial present discreetly altered by the information economy. Stephenson’s recent —­ (1999), or his sprawling “Ba- roque Cycle” ( [2003], [2004], and The System of the World [2004])—opt­ for naturalist romance: they resort to uninhibited fabulation on scientific and technological topics. In the process, the deli- cate equilibrium of hypothesis and observation required for naturalist sf is found missing.

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